Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
For the longest time, I didn’t know why I was so scared to be around men. I figured it was just a phase I was going through, being a woman who had been bullied most of my life. Maybe it was my way of protecting myself from being rejected once again. I honestly didn’t know, but I was determined to figure it out. Little did I know my life would be turned upside down once again. Remembering what happened to me in 2015, it was by far one of the hardest days of my life.
Without going into too much detail about what happened to me, I kept blaming myself; I kept thinking I did something wrong and it turned me into a woman who felt weak and powerless, someone I no longer recognized. At the time, I knew it was the only way to keep me from completely falling apart. Even as I started to remember and talk about what happened to me, I was terrified. Afraid I was headed down a path of self-destruction. For the longest time, I didn’t even tell my family what had happened to me. I was afraid they’d be embarrassed to have a daughter who had been sexually assaulted.
So many raw emotions began to surface as I began to remember more. I knew I had two choices: be afraid for the rest of my life and self-destruct, or take back my life and become a survivor. I choose to become a survivor! And it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was ready to finally be that woman I used to be.
Sure, there were times when I was on campus, I put on a brave face and I pretended everything was okay. I pretended I wasn’t broken on the inside, and I pretended I wasn’t scared when I was around men I didn’t know. At times, I would hover around my friends to feel safe. But I never really let on why I was acting this way. To them, I was just enjoying the conversation. Did I enjoy their conversations? You bet I did! But at the same time, they were my safe place. I knew if I was around them, I would be okay. I was invisible, and no one would ever hurt me again. In my eyes, it was a defense mechanism to help with the pain until I was able to talk to those that were close to me. That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I was nervous, not knowing how they would react and whether they would believe me. One by one, I began to tell them what happened to me.
To this day, I am so thankful for Zujaila, Chester, Zev, Faith, Megan P., Megan M., Katie S., Amy, Michelle S., Brenda, Cerila, Tony, and Gaby R. Each of them reminds me human kindness still exists. Regardless of how bad things might get, I know I can always count on them to be there, ready to weather the storm with me. Granted, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of everyone who has helped me along the way. But these remarkable human beings are the ones who’ve helped me become a survivor.
Even now, after I finally had the courage to tell my family what happened to me (they were all so supportive and have been there every step of the way), I still struggle talking about it. It’s never easy talking about a traumatic event like this. One thing I’ve learned throughout this experience, it’s okay not to share every single detail with everyone. It’s okay to tell your story whenever you’re ready to tell it. But most importantly, take care of yourself! You come first!
If I could give one piece of advice to anyone who has ever been sexually assaulted, it wasn’t your fault. Know there are so many phenomenal organizations that are out there. There are so many incredible resources both on and off campus when you’re ready. Know there are amazing people out there who are ready to listen and be there whenever you need them.
If you or a loved one have experienced sexual assault, and are in need of support, please call RAINN at (800) 656-HOPE or chat with them online at https://www.rainn.org/.
Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
More on Mental Health on Campus: